Thank you to my dear friend Penny Afshar for sending me this quote from Mr. Rogers
Fifty at a time our sad pilgrimage began. Every passenger on the NYC passenger ferry had lost a family member…a husband… a wife.. a mom… a dad… a child. The sailings were timed to the minute… choreographed and structured to provide some sense of safety.
I was a chaplain, there to provide such support as was possible as these wounded devastated families made the trip to Ground Zero… to see the only real grave they would be able to visit.
We disembarked near Wall Street and walked through the financial district to a staging area that was exclusively dedicated to family members.
Each trip added to the ritual. Each day I saw more people come out of their buildings and just stand in silent respect as the procession snaked through. Many put their hands over their hearts…just like some country folks still do when funeral processions go by.
The reactions of the family members when they saw the Pile were gut wrenching….wailing….vomiting…fainting…one lady pulled out clumps of her hair till her scalp bled. One man opened his mouth to scream and nothing came out.
The lady that comes to mind on this 19th anniversary was one of the ones who fainted. On the ferry I sat next to her and said “I won’t sugar coat this. This is going to be the most difficult thing you will ever do. I am going to ask you to trust me about something. After we’ve seen it… and only with your permission… I’m going to ask you to do something before we leave to come back.”
It was her husband who was buried in the Pile.
Her knees buckled, her eyes rolled back and she grabbed my shirt and crumpled to the ground. After insuring that she was o.k. I helped her to her feet and held her up as she took in the horror.
After what seemed to be a long time we prepared to return to the ferry. Do you remember what I asked you? I’m going to ask you to close your eyes, take a deep breath…Open your eyes and this time focus your gaze on the people digging and looking for your husband. All these people you see have come to help. They’ve come from all over the country to help find people they’ve never met. They’ve come here to help you.
Almost as if on cue an excavator operator climbed down from his machine and took off his grimy, sooty hard hat and covered his heart. This time her tears were different. She had been comforted…by one of the helpers
As I write this post, a substantial part of Oregon is on fire. The smoke and my physical reaction to it has triggered some painful memories of the acrid smoke from the Pile
But I have taken my own advice and looked again at the orange sky and gotten a whiff of the pungent smell of a wildfire. The helpers are here. People are opening up their barns to house the livestock and panicked horses of people they’ve never met. Relief stations are everywhere… food and clothing and supplies for the firefighters and the displaced families are already piling up.
One family who owns a farm have had a neighbor pull a water truck nearby just in case some of the arsonists try and set fire to their hay…yes there are arsonists intentionally setting fires here…looters too.
Churches, hotels, people lending their 5th wheels to people they’ve never met…anything resembling a parking area far enough away from the flames is dedicated to sheltering the displaced
I remembered what Jesus told his disciples the night He was arrested. In this world you will have tribulation…but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world. In the same discourse he promised them that the The Comforter was coming, the Holy Spirit. The Greek word translated Comforter come from two Greek words Para (alongside) and Kaleo (called) It literally means Ones called alongside to Help.
May we never forget the lessons of 9/11
May we see the helpers…and be the helpers…comforting others with the comfort with which we have been comforted of God.
Mr. Rogers’ mother was a very wise mom.